Nordic countries challenged on sustainable consumption, production and energy

Nordic countries challenged on sustainable consumption, production and energy

In a new paper commissioned by the Nordic Council of Ministers, Bumps on the Road to 2030, think tank Sustainia highlights the need for a green transition in the region’s agricultural systems, more low-carbon energy, economic growth for all, and improved ecosystem conservation. Ensuring sustainable consumption and production patterns remains a key concern across the region. According to Sustainia, these are the primary common challenges that the Nordic countries face in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of Agenda 2030.

By Páll Tómas Finnsson

Are the Nordic countries ready for Agenda 2030?
Bumps on the Road to 2030 provides a clear overview of the Nordic countries’ shared challenges with regards to achieving the 17 SDGs by 2030. Based on international comparisons on the sustainability performance of the countries around the world, the paper highlights seven SDGs that pose a particular challenge for the Nordic Region. One of the most pressing issues is to change consumption and production patterns and to reduce the region’s material footprint (SDG 12).

“Our biggest challenge is going to be to rethink our consumption habits and adapt our industries and production methods, whether it’s in energy, agriculture, fisheries or forestry,” says Martin Larsen, Project Manager at Sustainia, who authored the paper together with Esben Alslund-Lanthén. ”Our high standard of living means that we consume too much and produce too much waste, and we haven’t been able to manage the waste that we’ve generated successfully enough.”

The data shows that domestic material consumption in the region is very high. Norway and Finland consume 35.6 and 34.3 tonnes per capita respectively – close to double the OECD average – while Denmark, Sweden and Iceland score close to the average. According to the paper, achieving SDG 12 calls for “new efforts to create economies where economic growth is less bound to material consumption and where resources are circulated to higher extent than today.”

Four Nordic countries top the 2017 SDG Index
The two major sources of data on the progress of individual countries towards achieving the SDGs are the SDG Index and Dashboards report and Sustainable Development Goals: Are the rich countries ready? Both these reports were developed by Bertelsmann Stiftung and the UN’s Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN).

The former covers 157 of the 193 UN member states, while the latter focuses solely on the OECD countries. Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Norway top the 2017 SDG Index, and Iceland is ranked 14th. While this indicates that the Nordic countries are better prepared to meet the goals than most, the data shows that all OECD countries have some deficiencies with regard to achieving the SDGs.

“On a general level, the Nordic Region performs very well in terms of achieving the SDGs, but we definitely have our challenges, too,” says Larsen. “The SDGs are a complex agenda. The aim of our analysis was to reduce the complexity by establishing an overview of the available data on how the Nordic countries are performing, identifying key challenges and assessing the countries’ chances of achieving the SDGs by 2030.”

Need to accelerate transition to low-carbon energy
According to the two reports, the Nordic countries are challenged by high levels of CO2 emissions per capita from energy generation (SDG 7 and 13). Despite having been quite successful in integrating renewable energy sources into their energy systems, the 2016 SDG Index states that all five Nordic countries are still “seriously far from” achieving SDG 13 on Climate Action.

“The challenge here is related to energy intensity and energy efficiency,” says Larsen. “An explanation for this could be found in the region’s cold climate and prevalence of energy-intensive industry. It’s important to note that there are significant differences in how the respective countries rate in these international reports, but it’s clear that we need a continued and consolidated commitment to low-carbon energy and increased energy efficiency.”

Other issues raised in Bumps on the Road to 2030 are the need to tackle unsustainable nitrogen levels in agricultural production (SDG 2) and to improve ecosystem conservation efforts below water and on land (SDG 14 and 15) such as through the protection of marine sites, more sustainable exploitation of fish stocks, and by preventing deforestation. Furthermore, the Nordic countries, along with most other OECD countries, are challenged by increasing economic inequality and, in some cases, relatively high unemployment rates (SDG 8).

SDGs show the way towards green growth
Larsen emphasises that achieving the SDGs is not only about addressing the challenges the Nordic Region is facing, but also about the many opportunities that Agenda 2030 creates.

“Other regions are challenged on a lot more of the SDGs than the Nordic Region,” he explains. “Achieving all 17 SDGs, especially if we succeed in solving the challenges related to our consumption and production, would provide a great platform for creating sustainable and profitable business opportunities for the Nordic countries.”

Bumps on the Road to 2030 can be downloaded here.

The seven SDGs in the spotlight
Zero Hunger (SDG 2)
Affordable and Clean Energy and Climate Action (SDG 7 and 13)
Decent Work and Economic Growth (SDG 8)
Responsible Consumption and Production (SDG 12)
Life below Water (SDG 14) and Life on Land (SDG 15).


“Our biggest challenge is going to be to rethink our consumption habits and adapt our industries and production methods, whether it’s in energy, agriculture, fisheries or forestry”

Martin Larsen
Project Manager at Sustainia